Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Opinion

Confluence offer too good to miss

OK, maybe the timing isn’t perfect, what with buying Christmas presents, property tax bills and all, but the deal is too good to pass up.

So what is the deal? A chance to help push the Confluence arts center private fundraising effort over the goal line of $13.5 million. If arts center backers can raise $500,000 by year’s end, an anonymous donor will contribute $1 million, in effect tripling all contributions. That’s an offer that would put any door-buster sale to shame.

The overall private fundraising effort is at about $11 million. If arts center backers can dig a little deeper in the coming days and secure the anonymous $1 million double-matching grant, it would put the $13.5 million goal well within our grasp.

This has been a long but broad-based effort from the start more than 3½ years ago. It has cleared many hurdles erected in its path. It overcame two referendums — one city ($5 million) and one county ($3.5 million). Opponents were counting on voter rejection that would have torpedoed the project. It also has survived ongoing organized opposition to public involvement.

Next, the hope of securing $25 million from the state to cover UW-Eau Claire’s 50 percent stake in the center was reduced to $15 million; as a result, the initial $50 million arts center proposal was scaled back to $40 million. Then, it briefly appeared that the $15 million wouldn’t make it into the 2015-17 state budget at all, but thanks in part to behind-the-scenes efforts by local legislators of both parties, the $15 million was secured.

The local business community has pledged a bit more than $4 million to date with a goal of $4.2 million. Hundreds of other individuals and groups also have pledged what they can, but the race isn’t finished.

So far, the public-private Confluence arts center has been only an architect’s rendering. The drawing often used shows the arts center on the right as one looks from the west bank of the Chippewa River. A public plaza is shown in the center and a mixed-use building is on the left.

One of those entities, the $25 million Haymarket Landing mixed-use building, is rapidly taking shape. The privately-funded building will have commercial space on the street level and 119 apartments on the upper five floors that UW-Eau Claire would like to lease for student housing. The expectation would be that performing arts students would occupy some of those apartments next door to the arts center.

Things haven’t moved along quite as quickly as first hoped — initial goals called for the arts center to open by fall of next year. That’s been pushed back to late 2018, but its prospects have improved greatly.

The only remaining hurdle (as far as we can tell) is raising another $2.5 million. If you haven’t made a pledge yet, now is the time, because your $10 will turn into $30. And you’ll be part of something very special for the Chippewa Valley for decades to come.

— Don Huebscher, editor


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